Xerces’ Pollinator Team Grows, Again

I have to admit to having worked at the Xerces Society for longer than anyone else. When I joined, there were five people on the staff and I was the only person in the nascent pollinator program. How things have changed: The Society has gone from strength to strength and the pollinator program has staff based across the United States—and we’ve just added six new program staff!

This has happened thanks to a partnership between General Mills and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which was announced just after Thanksgiving last year. General Mills and the NRCS together made a five-year, $4 million financial commitment to support the creation and protection of pollinator habitat on America’s farmlands. Our six new pollinator conservation specialists are here to make that dream a reality.

This week, our new staff gathered in Minnesota for an orientation to their new jobs and to meet other Xerces staff that they’ll be working with on a daily basis. (They were joined by Vicky Wilkins, who is taking a one-month sabbatical from her job in Britain to learn about Xerces work. Until recently, Vicky worked at Buglife, but she is now with Flora & Fauna International.)

Nearly half of the Xerces pollinator conservation program staff gathered in Minnesota this week. From left to right (new staff in italics): Kelly Gill, Kathryn Prince, Karin Jokela, RaeAnn Powers, Mace Vaughan, Jennifer Hopwood, Jessa Kay Cruz, Dave Williams, Sarah Foltz Jordan, Eric Venturini, and on the right, Ben Carlson. Second from right is Vicky Wilkins, who is visiting from Britain and has spent a month learning about Xerces work.

The new pollinator staff will be based in NRCS offices around the country and will collaborate with NRCS staff to provide individual consulting to farmers on habitat restoration and pollinator-friendly farm management practices, and serve as advisors to staff of other conservation agencies. The end result will be thousands of acres of new pollinator habitat. We thank General Mills and the NRCS for making this expansion possible.

The Xerces Society has become a trusted source for science-based information and advice. This influx of new talent adds to that and brings our pollinator program staff to two dozen, cementing it firmly as the largest and most experienced pollinator conservation team in the world!

Meet our new pollinator staff

Ben Carlson comes to us from the U.S. Geological Survey at Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, where he investigated the impact of land-use change and USDA conservation program land on the health and productivity of commercial honey bees. Prior to that, Ben earned a masters degree in natural resource management from North Dakota State University, and gained experience of restoring native prairie habitat. He will be based in North Dakota

Dave Williams brings more than two decade’s experience of prairie restoration in an array of landscapes, including public parks, right-of-ways, farms, and private lands, most recently as the Restoration and Research Manager at the University of Northern Iowa. Dave received an MS in biology from the University of Northern Iowa, with an emphasis on prairie ecology. He is also an accomplished author, with titles including The Tallgrass Prairie Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification and Tallgrass Prairie Center’s Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest. He’ll be based in Iowa.

Eric Venturini has a background in native bee research and consulting in northern New England. He has studied nesting of mining bees, undertaken bumble bee surveys, and trialed organic methods for establishing wildlife plantings. Eric received a masters degree in ecology and environmental sciences from the University of Maine, and subsequently worked there as an assistant research scientist. Through his consulting company, Eric has worked with growers to plan and install on-farm pollinator habitat. He’ll be based in Maine.

Karin Jokela straddles the fields of pollinator conservation and agriculture. With an MS in ecology and evolutionary biology from Iowa State University, she has conducted native plant and bee surveys for the Minnesota Biological Survey, and most-recently worked for Great River Greening, where she helped landowners to design, implement, and evaluate habitat restoration efforts. Karin and her husband are also organic vegetable farmers, and Karin manages a small native plant nursery on their Sogn Valley Farm, adding another farming family to the Xerces team. Karin will be based in Minnesota.

Kathryn Prince is joining our staff in California. Kat’s initial focus will be on the San Joaquin Valley, providing technical support and training focused on pollinators, other beneficial insects, and monarch butterflies and assisting conservation planners with creating or improving habitat on working lands. Kathryn holds an MS in entomology and agroecology from the University of Wisconsin, with a focus on the role wild bees in vegetable crop production. She has also worked on projects involving conservation biological control and IPM.

RaeAnn Powers is a Nebraska native whose work has taken her to the shores of Alaska with the National Wildlife Refuge system and the lakes of northern Minnesota as a canoe guide, before returning to the prairies of Midwest, where she has worked with Nebraska Natural Heritage program, the Nature Conservancy, and Prairie Legacy Inc., a native seed farm. RaeAnn has an MS in ecology from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and will be based in Nebraska.


By Matthew Shepherd, Communications Director

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